sustainability, brand, branding, Detroit, USA, communication, innovation

Claire and Guillaume from strategic planning were in Detroit from 22 to 25 May for Sustainable Brands, the global event for responsible and innovative brands. Workshops, testimonies, city tours ... Making the most of the opportunity of being there, they were able to discuss topics ranging from food in cities to the workings of urban farms, a widespread phenomenon in Detroit.
For, contrary to popular belief, far from being a ghost town, Detroit is a city of the future - especially in terms of social innovation and sustainability.
But how has vital necessity, which the American city has been feeling the effects of since the 1950s, created the conditions for the emergence of tomorrow’s solutions?
Claire explains the important lessons that the reinvention of Detroit can teach us in a series of 5 articles! She gives us an insider’s view of three days filled with discoveries, sharing and emotions.
We’ve already posted the first episode: Ford & Detroit: a History of Interwoven Destinies
Now comes the second episode of our series, "Human Beings beyond the Headlines"!

human bEingS beyond the headlines

So Ford is one thing. But as you may have begun to see in my previous article, the secret of Detroit's strength and soul today is not its industry, but its inhabitants.
Everywhere we went we found the same energy, the same determination to change things, to transform the destiny of a city or a district – and more especially that of communities. Because what Detroit entrepreneurs have in common is a remarkable ability to create both with and for the men and women of Detroit. The solidarity and rare humanity I experienced here felt really good...
I wanted to tell you about two projects that really touched me and that I found particularly precious, not just because they are built around a profoundly social model, but also because they tell us a new story about Detroit - a story with the potential to inspire confidence and pride in all its citizens ... and perhaps even encourage them to create a better future for themselves, their family, their neighborhood, their city and maybe – who can tell? - the whole world.

What is it?
It’s a brand of jewelry, 100% Made in Detroit, with two main characteristics. 1: All jewelry is made from paint sourced from tags on the city’s walls. 2: All the employees are disadvantaged women from local shelters. Not only does Rebel Nell offer employment, but it also provides training in finance and management to encourage the women to create their own business ventures.

Why did I choose to talk to you about it?
Firstly because it is a deeply creative project which is something that always strikes a chord with me. Each woman is trained in the art of jewelry and is then invited to express her own creativity when she makes a piece of jewelry. Each piece is unique and bears the mark of its creator. And I just adore the idea of recycling street art - a sort of art within an art.
Another thing I really like is that when you buy Rebel Nell you’re not just buying a piece of jewelry, but a story you’re dying to tell everyone. You’re buying a project that speaks directly to the heart. And - when you realize the intimate value a piece of jewelry can have - it all makes a lot of sense.
Finally I also love the sassy and slightly provocative personality of the brand that sums up so neatly the Detroit attitude of mind. In its communication the women working on the project look back at us defiantly, and almost seem to be saying "So you still think we’re losers?” Gosh! I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of them …


Could it inspire another brand?
Yes, sure! Take a look at the jewelry brands around us ... What do they tell us? I mean apart from the fact that we’re elegant, stylish, young women, maybe rich and ambitious? Frankly, they don’t tell us much.
Imagine that Agatha launched special collections in each city in collaboration with young local women designers? And went on to become a brand led by creative and talented women? Who then in turn encouraged other young women to follow in their footsteps?
Imagine that Histoire d’Or told us real stories. That it took us to other continents to meet the men and women who make jewelry for the whole world ... In other words, why don’t our jewelry brands tell us real stories about real people?


What is it?
At the Empowerment Plan, there is only one product which combines the functions of coat, rucksack and sleeping bag. A product for people who live on the street or in shelters, and which allows them to keep warm and store their personal belongings safely. But that’s not the end of the story.
Because the longer-term aim is obviously to ensure that one day this type of product will be no longer needed. So the young entrepreneur opted to work with homeless people. She trains them and then provides them with a full-time job. And for 2 hours a day, she gives them the opportunity to train in computer science and management, as well as offering them support to open a bank account, access legal advice, and so on.

Why did I choose to talk to you about it?
Because I found the humble and pragmatic attitude of this young designer profoundly touching. Because the idea is simple, effective, and it makes a real difference to the dozens of people who are currently working for the Empowerment Plan. Because it works so well that the model is due to be rolled out to other cities. Because the people who enter the program leave the street and never go back – that in itself is well worth an article.
And also because it is a collaborative project in which brands participate while still leaving the entrepreneur lots of leeway. Patagonia and Carhartt supply fabric and General Motors has helped on insulation against the cold. And above all, as the founder emphasizes, each brand brings business expertise to support the project in its various needs, contributing to the success of the company.

Could it inspire another brand?
Large groups often wonder what’s the best way to work with entrepreneurs. At Sustainable Brands we’ve talked a lot on this subject – one that is particularly close to my heart. And when you take a closer look at successful partnerships, there’s no wave of a magic wand, only a pragmatic approach: start with the needs of the entrepreneur, stay humble, listen, and get the right people with the right expertise to work with the entrepreneur.
When you look at how successful this project is, you feel like telling Levi's to help 1083 – yes, you know - the brand of jeans 100% Made in France - to develop its ever more responsible model (in the US they are just taking the first steps with the Collaboratory Project (take a look at: http://levistrauss-collaboratory.com/).
Imagine LVMH creating a partnership with an entrepreneur in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and re-launching a 100% local brand with former employees of the region’s textile factories. I don’t know about you but I would much rather invest in a 100% locally-made jacket than in a 100% Chinese Vuitton bag...
 Long live women entrepreneurs!
To conclude this new chapter without being completely over the top, I would just like to say: hats off to you, ladies! You’ve proved that women entrepreneurs are both big-hearted and talented and will be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to building the future!